Foxborough, Mass. – It had the feeling of a preseason game. Tom Brady was watching, not playing, after halftime. And even when he was playing, he wasn’t surrounded by his usual supporting cast on offense or defense.
With the AFC East crown and home-field advantage in the playoffs already in hand, the New England Patriots were in self-preservation mode for Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills.
Meanwhile, the Bills, despite having been eliminated from the playoffs last week, kept their starters on the field from beginning to end, which helped lead to a 17-9 victory that snapped a 13-game losing streak here and gave them their first win in 13 games at Gillette Stadium.
The win also gave the Bills a 9-7 finish, their first winning record since 2004.
But did the fact that rookie Jimmy Garoppolo was the Patriots’ quarterback through the second half make the accomplishment ring hollow to the players in the visitor’s locker room?
Right after the game, defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who hadn’t been part of a winning team in any of his previous eight seasons with the Bills, announced to his teammates that when he leaves the club’s facility today to go home for the offseason, “it will be the first time I’ll leave with a winning record.”
“Everybody on that field today gets an NFL paycheck; all those guys are good players,” Bills tight end Lee Smith said. “Obviously, Tom is a Hall of Famer and maybe they’re a different team with Tom back there at quarterback; I think that’s an understatement. But it’s about the Buffalo Bills. We got our first winning season in 10 years. There hasn’t been a single guy here who’s had a winning season for the Bills, so it’s a good day for everybody.”
Said veteran running back Fred Jackson, who led the Bills with 58 yards on 18 carries, said, “This is something we can build on. We were able to come in here and play well enough to get a victory. That’s what you can take into the offseason, knowing that what we got accomplished is something that we can grow from.”
The Bills led by as many as 11 points, 14-3, late in the first quarter, and 17-6 at halftime. They held the Patriots to no touchdowns, although Brady not only sat out the second half, he didn’t have his two best receivers: tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Julian Edelman, both of whom were inactive.
Brady finished 6 of 8 for 80 yards, and was sacked once, while Garoppolo was 10 of 17 for 90 yards, and was sacked three times.
Kyle Orton was 16 of 23 for 176 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown to Robert Woods. He completed passes to nine different receivers and drove the Bills to a pair of touchdowns, the second of which was a 1-yard run by Anthony Dixon.
“We moved the ball up and down the field,” Orton said. “In this league, if you don’t have that consistency, it’s hard to be a good offense. So I’m glad we ended up playing well and getting the win.”